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Sotomayor is first Latina on U.S. Supreme Court

KAREN JUANITA CARRILLO | 4/12/2011, 4:39 p.m.

If the Senate's vote goes as expected, Judge Sonia Sotomayor will be the next sitting associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Bronx-born Sonia Maria Sotomayor, a daughter of Puerto Rican parents who was raised in the Bronxdale Houses complex, will serve as the Supreme Court's 111th justice, its third woman and its first ever Hispanic.

The excitement over President Barack Obama's May 26 nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court has never really waned in the U.S. Hispanic community. When she appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington to answer hard-hitting questions about why she should serve on the court, many coordinated "watch parties" so that people of all ages could share in the moment--they sat together and cheered as Sotomayor answered questions about her legal opinions.

Sotomayor's nomination has proved inspirational for young Latinos and Blacks, many of whom can identify with her humble beginnings and the dedicated hard work that led to her career's rise.

After graduating from the Blessed Sacrament School and then Cardinal Spellman High School, Sotomayor went to Princeton and graduated summa cum laude. She later attended Yale Law School, where she was editor of the Yale Law Journal.

The White House press release announcing her nomination stated, "Sonia Sotomayor has served as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit since October 1998. She has been hailed as 'one of the ablest federal judges currently sitting' for her thoughtful opinions, and as 'a role model of aspiration, discipline, commitment, intellectual prowess and integrity' for her ascent to the federal bench from an upbringing in a South Bronx housing project.

"Her American story and three decade career in nearly every aspect of the law provide Judge Sotomayor with unique qualifications to be the next Supreme Court justice. She is a distinguished graduate of two of America's leading universities. She has been a big city prosecutor and a corporate litigator. Before she was promoted to the Second Circuit by President Clinton, she was appointed to the District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H.W. Bush. She replaces Justice Souter as the only justice with experience as a trial judge."

And yet, despite her credentials, opposition to Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court was at times quite virulent. "I evaluate judicial nominees by focusing on qualifications, which include not only legal experience but, more importantly, judicial philosophy," Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told his Senate colleagues. "Judge Sotomayor's approach to judging is more important to me than her resume."

"While she stated in her testimony that she would adhere to legal precedent, her judicial record suggests otherwise," claimed North Carolina's Sen. Richard Burr. "In several cases she has clearly ignored precedent or cited precedent that did not apply to the facts at hand, and I believe she let her personal beliefs cloud her judgment. ...Therefore, I am unable to support her nomination to the Supreme Court."

Texas Sen. John Cornyn declared that Sotomayor's decision in the New Haven firefighter promotion exam case "denied [the mostly white firefighters] the opportunity for a promotion...because of the color of their skin." And Arizona Sen. and former Republican presidential candidate John McCain said: "There is no doubt that Judge Sotomayor has the professional background and qualifications that one hopes for in a Supreme Court nominee....However, an excellent resume and an inspiring life story are not enough to qualify one for a lifetime of service on the Supreme Court."

One of the most prominent claims is that because she served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Sotomayor has emphasized her Latino heritage first and become less colorblind. The National Council of La Raza (NCLR) noted that Sotomayor's nomination is "a historic and proud moment for Latinos and the country as a whole. But her ethnicity has proven too much of a temptation for the voices of hate and extremism, who instead of looking at her judicial record have launched a vocal rampage that has reached new heights of absurdity."

Prominent civil rights groups, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., People for the American Way, the Asian American Justice Center, National Council of Jewish Women and others, have professed outrage at the attacks on Sotomayor and numerous groups have stated their support for Judge Sotomayor's confirmation. As the Amsterdam News went to press, the Senate was expected to have 49 Democrats vote for confirmation and 28 Republicans vote against her appointment. There were still six undecided votes.